Sunday, August 7, 2011

Defiant Helen Mirren arrives on the set of Phil Spector film following warnings to pull out or face 'serious consequences'

helen mirren bikini=
Team: Mirren takes on the role of Spector's lawyer Linda Kenney Baden, pictured with Spector at his 2007 trial for the murder of Lana Clarkson
The group, Friends of Lana Clarkson, have enlisted Hollywood publicity agent Edward Lozzi to organise a protest campaign and claim to have influential supporters who will stop actors who take part in the project being considered for prestigious awards.

Spector, 71, is serving 19 years-to-life after being convicted in 2009 of shooting 40-year-old Miss Clarkson at his mountaintop home six years earlier.

The eccentric producer, who worked on The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be, in 1970 and is played in the new film by Al Pacino, also allegedly terrorised other women, holding them hostage at gunpoint.

Getting to work: Helen Mirren, co-star Al Pacino and director Jeffrey Tambor discuss filming on set
Getting to work: Helen Mirren and co-star Al Pacino discuss filming on set

Controversial: Al Pacino stars as Spector in the film, which is understood to be sympathetic to his side of the story
Controversial: Al Pacino stars as Spector in the film, which is understood to be sympathetic to his side of the story
Linda Kenney Baden claims there is evidence Miss Clarkson was so depressed by setbacks in her career that she used a revolver owned by Spector to shoot herself.

Mr Lozzi said the group he represented – called The Friends of Lana Clarkson – was ‘dismayed’ at Dame Helen’s involvement in the film, conceived by controversial New York writer and director David Mamet who has called for Spector to be freed.

Mr Lozzi described the film as ‘an insensitive attempt to portray the loathsome, lying, gun-abusing convicted murderer of our friend Lana Clarkson with some kind of sympathy’.

Defiant: Dame Helen Mirren arrives in New York last weekend to start filming
Arrival: Mirren arrived in New York last night to start filming

Mr Lozzi – a Press aide to former US President George Bush – said that his group would mount a boycott of HBO unless the studio drops the project.

And he warned that influential backers would lobby judges of the Emmy awards, asking them not to consider Dame Helen or any other actors who take part in the film for awards.

‘We have great respect for Helen Mirren,’ Mr Lozzi said. ‘What we hope is that when she reads this script and sees Lana is being trashed, she will speak up and say, “This is not right.”

Al Pacino pictured for the first tim in character as record producer Phil Spector, who is currently serving 19 years to life
Al Pacino pictured for the first tim in character as record producer Phil Spector, who is currently serving 19 years to life
‘Helen Mirren probably didn’t know about The Friends of Lana Clarkson when she agreed to take the role – it would have been just another job to her. But now that she is aware, we ask her to examine her conscience.’

The group has sent a letter to Dame Helen, warning the 66-year-old, who won a 2007 Oscar for her portrayal of the Queen, that she should ‘do the right thing’ and demand script changes or face damaging ‘consequences’ including ‘no Emmy nominations’.

The letter adds: ‘Know that we are very serious.’ Mr Lozzi claims the campaign has already forced Bette Midler – who was initially cast as Mrs Kenney Baden – to drop out, although the actress said she had injured her back. ‘Maybe her back does hurt but I think what persuaded her to quit was she didn’t want to hurt her image,’ Mr Lozzi said.

The film was conceived by director David Mamet, who has called for Spector to be freed.

Dame Helen was also in the spotlight yesterday after beating much younger contenders to be named Body of the Year.

She pushed Elle MacPherson and Kelly Brook into second and third place in a poll of 2,000 women. They were asked by the LA Fitness gym chain to name the women they felt were more  comfortable in their own skin.

Defiant Helen Mirren arrives on the set of Phil Spector film following warnings to pull out or face 'serious consequences'

She is being threatened with awards snubs and worse for refusing to pull out of the film.

But a defiant Helen Mirren arrived on the set of the controversial Phil Spector movie yesterday to get down to work.

The actress smiled and waved at cameras, perhaps sending a message to the group of apparently 'influential' Hollywood insiders and friends of Lana Clarkson who are protesting her involvement, that she is not backing down.

helen mirren bikini=
Defiant: Despite warnings from Hollywood insiders to quit, Helen Mirren arrived on the set of hew new Phil Spector film today

Confidante: Mirren plays Spector's long-time lawyer Linda Kenney Baden in the film
Confidante: Mirren plays Spector's long-time lawyer Linda Kenney Baden in the film
The 66-year-old sat outside her trailer drinking tea in her costume for the role of Linda Kenney Baden, Spector's long-time lawyer and supporter, before making her way on to the set.

She wears a long blonde wig and glasses for the part, and today was filming in a tight black dress and purple flats.

The Oscar-winning actress was pictured discussing a scene with her co-star Al Pacino, who plays the lead role of Phil Spector .

Threats: Despite the warnings by friends of Lana Clarkson for her to pull out of the controversial film, Helen looked comfortable on the set in Long Island today

Threats: Despite the warnings by friends of Lana Clarkson for her to pull out of the controversial film, Helen looked comfortable on the set in Long Island today

The movie has been filming in Long Island and Manhattan for the past month, with Pacino bearing an uncanny likeness to Spector.

The film is understood to be sympathetic to the former Beatles producer and claims he was wrongly jailed for murder.

Dame Helen’s spokesman last night said the actress had received a letter sent to her by the protesters, but added: ‘She’s in the movie. She’s not dropping out. That’s all she’s saying.’

Joining forces: Mirren stars as Baden, while Pacino appears as Spector
Joining forces: Mirren stars as Baden, while Pacino appears as Spector
Joining forces: Mirren stars as Baden, while Pacino appears as Spector

The secrets to Dame Helen Mirren's amazing body

helen mirren bikini

Helen Mirren (Pic:Nick Ball)

SHE may be 66 years old but Dame Helen Mirren’s stunning figure is still an award-winner.

The actress trounced the likes of Jennifer Lopez to scoop Body of the Year in a poll by gym chain LA Fitness.

So how does she do it? Here we delve into the beauty secrets which made Russell Brand gush: “She’s sexy and enchanting. There’s something about her that drives me wild.”
Advertisement >>

Learn good posture

DAME Helen once explained: "Four-inch platform heels give you great height and make your legs look unbelievably long.I used to get them in stripper shops but now you can buy them everywhere. Although, unfortunately, that means everyone else had discovered the trick, too. "I aso hold my tummy in. It comes from being on stage.You're aware of your posture."

Go easy on exercise

THE star has explained: "I do exercise but, honestly, it's not particularly a beauty thing. As you get older, you have to keep up your energy levels. I'm very lazy. If I start getting out of puff when I go upstairs, I'll force myself into minimalistic exercise. I'm a great believer in the Royal Canadian Air Force exercises, as they only take 15 minutes."

Cut your own hair

SHE'S pretty low-maintenance when it comes to her barnet.

The actress said last year: "I cut my hair in my bathroom and colour it, too. For the past 20 to 30 years, I've only ever been to the hairdressers if I've had to go for a part I've been playing. Otherwise I simply put my hair in a ponytail and cut across the top - it creates natural layers and just falls right."

Work, rest

SHE can't get enough of jumping into bed - and enjoying some shut-eye. The star has said: "When I'm working hard, I don't party.

I don't go to the bar after work. I don't go out to restaurants.

I just go to bed.

If I'm on a film, I even try to catch some sleep in my trailer at lunchtime. "I try to sleep as much as possible.

It's very important and, as you get older, even more so."

It's all about make-up

DAME Helen says there's one big secret to her amazing looks.

"A lot of looking good is simply down to good make-up."

She usually goes for the minimalist look, often with a splash of vivid red lipstick and she once admitted that her greatest extravagance is "drugstore make-up".

Just before the Oscars she was spotted buying Too Faced Liquif-Eye - and it helped hold back any tears during her Best Actress acceptance speech for The Queen.

Grow old gracefully..

SHE has said: "My mother told me an amazingly wise thing that I've found to be true, which is that you should never worry about getting older. Because an amazing thing happens.

As you reach each age you find, like a miracle, you've got the weapons, or tools, to deal with it.

So your body gets older but your mind gets better. "You've learned how to deal with relationships. You've realised you're not the only person in the world, and beauty's not the most important thing. To be obsessed by your looks is pathetic."

Ditch the dieting

DAME Helen revealed: "My whole life I've gone backwards and forwards the same 10lb.

I can wear clothes from 20 years ago.

At my thinnest I'm a couple of pounds under 9st - at my fattest I'm a few pounds under 10st. I've gone through many diets that are also so boring. You stop eating and that's what makes you lose weight - not eating.

But as you get older, losing weight doesn't make your body look better. "I eat healthily but not that anyone who saw me munching a burger will know. But I don't eat burgers regularly. I don't think people should."

Helen Mirren Sticks with BioPic Despite Calls to Quit

helen mirren bikini=
Helen Mirren is slated to star in a new film about Phil Spector, known for his work in the music industry and later accused of murdering Lana Clarkson. Mirren will be playing the role of Spector’s attorney, Linda Kenney Baden.

Friends and allies of Clarkson have promised “serious consequences” if Mirren goes through will the role, according to the British Daily Mail. The Daily Mail reported that Mirren’s spokesman said,  “She’s in the movie. She’s not dropping out. That’s all she’s saying.”

The 66-year-old actress will star opposite Al Pacino as Phil Spector. Spector was found guilty of Clarkson’s death and is currently serving a 19 years-to-life sentence.

According Reuters, screenwriter and director David Mamet said, “I definitely think there is reasonable doubt  [in Spector's case]… They should never have sent him away.”

The Daily Mail reported that Edward Lozzi, a publicist speaking for Friends of Lana Clarkson, called the film, “an insensitive attempt to portray the loathsome, lying, gun-abusing convicted murderer of our friend Lana Clarkson with some kind of sympathy.”

Spector’s attorney Baden has set forth the idea that Clarkson in fact killed herself with Spector’s gun.

She can't be 66! Helen Mirren turns back the clock in colourful tunic and leggings

According to the New York Daily News, Miss Mirren received 17.7 per cent of the votes cast by 2,000 respondents to a survey by international gym chain LA Fitness.

Miss Mirren beat Elle Mapherson, Jennifer Lopez and Pippa Middleton to win the accolade.

Speaking to the newspaper, LA Fitness spokesman Tony Orme said: 'It's great to see the public celebrating bodies of all shapes and sizes, and proving that you really can look fabulous over 40 and 50.'

Forever young:  Earlier Dame Helen enjoyed a game of hopscotch on the set of the Phil Spector biopic she is shooting

Miss Mirren plays Linda Kenney Baden in the Phil Spector movie, Spector's long-time lawyer and supporter, in the biopic, which stars Al Pacino as the former record producer who is now serving a prison sentence for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson.

The film is understood to be sympathetic to the former Beatles producer and claims he was wrongly jailed for murder.

Miss Mirren agreed to star in the movie despite being threatened with awards snubs and worse for refusing to pull out of the film.

Controversial: Helen relaxes with a cup of tea on set of the Phil Spector movie in which she plays Linda Kenney Baden, Spector's long-time lawyer and supporter
Controversial: Miss Mirren relaxes with a cup of tea on set of the Phil Spector movie in which she plays Linda Kenney Baden, Spector's long-time lawyer and supporter

Uncanny: Al Pacino bears a remarkable resemblance to the former music producer
Uncanny: Al Pacino bears a remarkable resemblance to the former music producer

She can't be 66! Helen Mirren turns back the clock in colourful tunic and leggings

helen mirren bikini=
Youthful: Helen Mirren turned back the clock as she stepped out in a pair of leggings and a colourful tunic in New York yesterday
A smiling Miss Mirren teamed her youthful look with a matching pink headscarf and shades as she headed to shoot scenes for the Phil Spector movie she is filming in New York.

Miss Mirren looks sensational for her age and yesterday was seen laughing heartily as she played a game of hopscotch.

She was recently awarded the title of Body of the Year by 2,000 fitness fanatics.

Read mo
Chic: The actress's outfit wouldn't have looked out of place on a woman a third of her age. She teamed the look with a headscarf and shades
Chic: The actress's outfit wouldn't have looked out of place on a woman a third of her age. She teamed the look with a headscarf and shades 
Chic: The actress's outfit wouldn't have looked out of place on a woman a third of her age. She teamed the look with a headscarf and shades
According to the New York Daily News, Miss Mirren received 17.7 per cent of the votes cast by 2,000 respondents to a survey by international gym chain LA Fitness.

Miss Mirren beat Elle Mapherson, Jennifer Lopez and Pippa Middleton to win the accolade.

Speaking to the newspaper, LA Fitness spokesman Tony Orme said: 'It's great to see the public celebrating bodies of all shapes and sizes, and proving that you really can look fabulous over 40 and 50.'

Helen Mirren has the sexiest body on planet

helen mirren bikini=
She's 66 years old. She has an Academy Award for playing a decidedly frumpy Queen Elizabeth. Her last movie role was as the elderly spinster nanny to Russell Brand's playboy millionaire in "Arthur." And she's officially got the best body in the world. Dame Helen Mirren, what was it like when they created you on Mount Olympus?

When the gym chain LA Fitness polled 2,000 members on the sexiest male and female physiques on the planet, you'd expect renowned hotties like Nicole Scherzinger and this year's It Girl, Pippa Middleton, to make the list. And they did. But who'd have guessed that Inspector Jane Tennyson would blow away the competition for the top spot? Or that 48-year-old Elle Macpherson would come in second, and 42-year-old Jennifer Lopez would land in fourth? And lest you thinking defying Father Time is for the ladies, the male list is decidedly unyouthful too, with Daniel Craig, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, David Hasselhoff and Simon Cowell all making appearances. Note to gravity: YOU LOSE.

Now, an LA Fitness poll isn't exactly the ne plus ultra of scientific inquiry, and it's not as if Helen Mirren's off-the-charts level of foxiness is going to change Victoria's Secret fashion shows or Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. You need only do a comparative perusal of the Maxim 100, where teenagers like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift are holding their own against a variety of Kardashians and models, to know that dewy, voluptuous youth never goes out of favor.

There's something defiantly cheeky and provocative about the LA Fitness poll results -- a little like, oh, I don't know, declaring Mirren's costar Russell Brand the sexiest man of the year.  Look at us! Thinking outside the box! No wonder LA Fitness's marketing director Tony Orme told the Hollywood Reporter this week that "It's great to see the public celebrating bodies of all shapes and sizes, and proving that you really can look fabulous over 40 and 50."

That's really the point here, isn't it? A beautiful body at 18 is all but a birthright, but one at 60 is the result of damn hard work and incredibly serendipitous genetics. And indeed Mirren declared last year that her "best friend" is her Wii Fit.

Of course, a survey whose results suggest that beauty and sexiness aren't the sole terrain of the young -- and that having a rocking body is possible at any age -- is well in service of the fitness industry. Sure, Mirren, like those ankle-biting whippersnappers Macpherson and Lopez, surely has all the body, face, and hair upkeep that a woman could dream of. Simply rolling out of bed looking like a million bucks becomes an increasingly unrealistic option the older any of us get – even a woman who is still cavorting around in red bikinis and posing naked in magazines.

Yet despite the attention-getting nature of the LA Fitness poll, it serves as a reminder that beauty and sexiness don't necessarily have an expiration date. That aging is inevitable, but "letting yourself go" only has to be if you choose to make it so. That being vibrant and active is always seductive. And that the untouchable Helen Mirren can outscorch legions of females 50 years her junior.

Helen Mirren | Now & Then (PHOTOS)

Helen Mirren, known for epic film turns and red-hot bikini body, turns 66-years-old today. Not only is she "The Queen" -- she won an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth II, she was appointed to the Order of the British Empire by Prince Charles -- that makes her Dame Helen to you, as well. Despite her respectable honors, the British actress, who stars in the summer blockbuster "Arthur" with Russell Brand, never misses an opportunity to titillate. She took it all off for Esquire Magazine, wearing only a Union Jack! Proving that barely dressed or fully clothed, Mirren works her wardrobe like the ultimate companion to her bodacious personality.

Take a peek in our gallery below to see how far Mirren has come since she had that ridiculous perm in the '70s. Happy birthday!

Dame Helen Mirren and David Beckham have the best bodies ever!

When we think of hot celeb bods, we imagine the likes of Rihanna, Megan Fox and Rosie H-W.

But one lady can now stand proud as having a better bod than all of the above! As voted for by the public, Dame Helen Mirren has the hottest female figure in all of Hollywood!

Helen even beat off competition from Jennifer Lopez to be crowned the fittest thing in Tinseltown. She proved that despite being in her sixties (66 to be precise), she has certainly still got it.

But anyone who has seen her in a bikini would already know that, we think that’s where she mainly keeps ‘it’.

The poll was reported on Sky News and with 17.65% of the vote, Helen more than doubled J.Lo’s 6.6% as well as Kate Winslet who lagged behind with 3.9%.

Pippa Middleton’s bum could not even stop her rise to the top spot and only scored a measly 4% of the vote.

Just goes to show, age is just a number! Please God, let us look that good when we are 66!
Daniel Craig beaten by David Beckham

Over on the boys team, new dad David Beckham swept to victory with 21%, beating off the likes of Daniel Craig and Johnny Depp who came in second and third place.

We think, in terms of fairness, we should all just check the top three are correct by looking at more pictures of them in their pants. What do you think?!

Confirmed: Helen Mirren is Hot

Do You Dare Wear a Bikini?

helen mirren bikini=
Helen Mirren rocked a bikini at 63, so why shouldn't you!

Besides — it's HOT!

Author Barbara Grufferman (The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More) has already admitted that her lovely German cousin, Barbara Haspel, has inspired her fashion choices far more than any celebrity.

In The Style Muse in Your Own Backyard, she explains that her cousin's foreignness — that intrinsic panache Europeans seem to have naturally — was a seductive influence, and she loved adopting "Cousin B's" way of putting outfits together.

On a recent visit though, when the two were trying to beat the heat and enjoy some quality beach time together, Barbara H couldn't quite coax Barbara G into a bikini.

At 54, Barbara Grufferman is committed to tankinis. And she looks great in them — especially because she religiously follows the exercise program she explains in her book. (She's even run/walk training for the NYC Marathon in the fall!)

But it's the sun that deters her:

    It's more about covering my body as protection, as opposed to feeling uncomfortable in a bikini. I try not to be in the sun in general, and if I am (at the beach, for example) I always have an umbrella so I can be under it, always have on at least 50 SPF, and always alway always wear a hat!"

Barbara Haspel on the other hand, has always worn a bikini to the beach, and sees no reason to change it up now even though she's 62.

    I have worn bikinis all my life,since I got my first one when I was 12 or so. I do Pilates and yoga, play tennis and golf to stay fit — and I eat healthy food. I don´t know how long I will show my belly at the beach, but surely in my garden. It is a good feeling to have air touch your body."

Maybe it's a European thing. Europeans are much more relaxed about body image. Which would also explain British Helen Mirren's comfort level (although there are those sculpted abs too!).

Maybe it's all the art all around them — Rubenesque figures might be more mainstream that the stick thin models we focus on here. And truthfully, most countries 'across the pond' don't have the weight issues we have here either. But Barbara Haspel is hardly Rubenesque. She says:

    In Europe, bikinis are very popular. We are maybe more courageous and less prudish than American women. For a long time it was even nothing special to go topless on a lot of beaches, but that is no longer the norm. I'm glad, because I think most women look better with a top!"

Whether in her garden or on the beach, Barbara looks healthy and normal — and great in a bikini at 62.

I'm going to Disneyland!

Hello from Anaheim, where I'm on the road with the Mariners.  So while I'm here, thought I'd repost my trip to Disneyland from three years ago.  It's also one of the entries in my hilarious book (which you'll notice I haven't been hitting you over the head with lately) that is still only $2.99 and you can order yours NOW by going here.   Thanks. 
My wife and I went to Disneyland. Since becoming an adult this was the first time I was ever there without kids or a joint. No strollers, no giant diaper bags, no getting home and realizing we had left somebody. Also, we had never seen the adjacent California Adventure so we wanted to go before it eventually shuts down or is completely rethought.

We figured: go before the summer begins and kids are out of school. I guess that now means February. Disneyland was packed. There were lines for everything. The biggest: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Waiting, Space Mountain, and churros. The Small World attraction is closed for renovation (thank God). A big fence surrounds it. So the line was only a half an hour.

I wore a golf shirts and long pants. I was waaaay overdressed. Come on, people! At least the ratty t-shirts and torn plaid shorts should fit! You’re going to be taking pictures in those rags.

As always, the park was immaculate… although I could swear one of the 60-year-old maintenance men in an elf suit was a former producer of TAXI. And the teenagers who work there remain the nicest, perkiest, helpfulliest David Arhuleta and Carrie Underwood clones you could find this side of Stepford.

I’m guessing the teens with major imperfections like acne or no dimples are assigned to wear those bulky heavy character costumes. It was 90 degrees and Winnie the Pooh was staggering around, tripping over strollers, kicking little tykes, occasionally sticking his head in an ice cream pushcart for relief.

Happy to say that the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride wasn’t ruined by the improvements. There were a few Jack Sparrows added and a nifty Davy Jones hologram but otherwise it’s pretty much the same. Oh maybe a little less raping but the spirit of fun is still there.

To avoid standing in endless lines Disneyland now offers “Fast Passes” for most major rides. It allows you to return for wait-free boarding. We got our Fast Passes for Space Mountain at 1 PM. Our reservations were for 9:30, thus saving us fifteen minutes had we stood in the normal line.

I was a good boy this trip. I did not stand up and ask Mr. Lincoln a question nor did I buy a Mouseketeer hat, have them scroll “Vincent” then rip off one of the ears.

With all the spectacular photo-ops Disneyland provides, all day long I saw people taking pictures of each other while standing in lines. We are truly a country of idiots.

Then there are the women trying to walk all day and night in ankle strap wedges. And they wonder why they’re crippled by Fantasyland.

Gas prices are so high that for the Autopia, the cars are now just being pushed by Disney employees.

In a nod to health conscious California, Disneyland eateries now serve healthy food along with the usual fast food junk. My wife ordered a salad. It was the third one sold this year!

The irony of the Indiana Jones ride is that Harrison Ford probably can’t ride it. It’s way too violent and rugged for a 66 year-old man.

We moved over to California Adventure, which is like going from Times Square on New Year’s Eve to downtown Flint, Michigan a year after they closed the GM plant.

The only thing worth seeing is “Soarin’ Over California”. It’s a simulated hang glide tour over the state. If only I could simulate flying on American Airlines instead of actually having to fly on American Airlines.

Wandered around the park. Don’t know the names of the “lands” per se but there’s one that’s kind of rustic that my wife just called “Wilderness Shit”. They pipe in this real stirring John Williams type music and I must say, coming out of the restroom I thought there’ve been times when I could have really used this.

Next we encountered a beach boardwalk themed land. The John Williams music gave way to Beach Boys tunes on a calliope. All these years I never knew that “Surfer Girl” was a circus song.

Disney – the company that brought you “Song of the South” and tar babies now presents “Pizza Oom Mow Mow” on the pier at California Adventure.

There’s a big classic Coney Island style rollercoaster and something called the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror”. Not wanting my first major stroke to be in a place where the paramedics all wear Peter Pan costumes I passed on both.

We returned to Disneyland, nostalgic for the days when California Adventure used to be a parking lot.

Night fell on the Magic Kingdom and it got a little chilly. No worries. There’s a clothing store every hundred feet. Me: “Excuse me, Tracy/Stacey/Kaysee/Lacy, do you have a men’s sweatshirt that doesn’t have Tinkerbell on it? Or Mickey in a wizard’s cap? Or Mulan? Or a fucking fairy castle!?” I bought a Davy Crockett coonskin cap so at least my head was warm.

Even in the evening when the crowd thinned out there was still a 45 minute wait for the aptly named Dumb-o ride.

No trip to Disneyland would be complete without a harrowing bobsled ride down the Matterhorn. It always takes me back to my idyllic childhood, going on it once with my dear sweet grandmother and hearing her drop the f-bomb.

The Haunted Mansion is now inhabited by a bi-lingual ghost. He gives spooky instructions in both English and Spanish.

Never got to Toontown. There were enough over-stimulated, sugar revved, screaming, out-of-control little hellions in all the other lands.

And I always wonder – how many of these children were conceived on Tom Sawyer’s Island during Grad Night?

Following the fireworks and “Disney Dwarfs on Parade” or whatever the hell that noisy thing was, we dutifully reported to Space Mountain to take advantage of our Fast Pass. Wow! Space Mountain was always great but this new revamped version is awesome. You know they mean business when they tell you to take your glasses off. As I was crawling off the rocket sled on my hands and knees I said to my wife, “Now THAT’S a thrill ride!”

Finally, it was time to leave. Where did twelve hours and hundreds of dollars go? A half hour to catch the tram and another half hour to find our car in the parking structure the size of Liechtenstein, and we were merrily on our way (to hit massive traffic on the Santa Ana freeway at midnight).

I have always loved Disneyland. I’m not ashamed to say it. I am ashamed to wear any of those sweatshirts but even as a five year-old curmudgeon I marveled at the imagination, scope, and vision of this wondrous (albeit highly profitable) world. So I will be back. Soon. My Fast Pass reservation for the Little Nemo Submarine Voyage is November 21st at 6:30 AM.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How could they fire Jerry Lewis?

Thank you, Jerry for 45 years of great work. Now get out. That’s essentially what the MDA has done to telethon host/face of the charity Jerry Lewis. Oh, I’m sure he drove them crazy. I’m sure executives dove out of their 20th floor office windows when they heard he was in the building. But without Jerry there is no telethon. I mean, seriously, you’re replacing one of the icons of show business with Nigel Lythgoe?

The program will also be shortened this year from twenty hours to a mere six. And I bet they still have trouble filling the bill. Good luck getting Tony Orlando this year.

Once upon the time the Jerry Lewis telethon was a highlight of the year. Twenty hours of the highest camp, schmaltziest schmaltz, cheesiest cheese, and glitziest entertainment ever assembled on one stage. And it was all live. Jaw-dropping moments were as common as a check of the tote board.   I even wrote about it a couple of years ago. 

Jerry created this faux Vegas main showroom format, which was already dated in 1966 when he first introduced it. Over the years it became a time piece. Singers still in tuxedos and formal gowns – at 7:00 AM. Wayne Newton -- the major headliner. Lounge comics trotting out material that I’m sure killed in 1955. Puppeteers. Bird acts.

And it was all held together by Jerry. No comedian has ever taken himself more seriously, and in an unintentional twisted way, that only made him funnier. One minute dripping sincerity, the next crossing his eyes and acting like a moron. Genius! Sheer genius!

Add to the mix the fatigue factor. Put someone like that on live television with major sleep deprivation and by hour 15 you’ve got real theater. Crying, badgering, doing rat pack racial slurs. You never knew what you were going to get… from moment to moment. And again, that was the brilliance of it all. That was the appeal. Once Jerry took his tie off you were on high alert for hilarity.

Plus, it was all for a really good cause.

Say what you will, Jerry raised millions and millions for MDA. His telethon became a part of American culture. He is 85. You knew it was just a matter of time. But to not let him go out in a dignified way, on his own terms, that’s unconscionable.

As far as I’m concerned there is no more MDA telethon. And it’s too bad because Nigel’s kids need the help just as much as Jerry’s.

Thanks again for everything, Jerry. I’ll never be able to hear Rockabye My Baby With a Dixie Melody ever again without crying… and laughing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

How we got our first SIMPSONS assignment

Thanks for your Friday Questions. Here are some attempts at answers.

DyHrdMET gets us started.

Can you tell the story of how you got to THE SIMPSONS and came up with this story idea?

My partner, David Isaacs and I were friends with Sam Simon and had worked with him on a couple of other shows. When he became the showrunner for THE SIMPSONS he asked if we would write one. At the time they paid much less than a standard live-half hour sitcom. Because they were animated, the studio was able to get away with paying essentially the same as a Saturday morning cartoon. But we were fans of the show, wanted to help Sam out, and my kids were little at the time and Sam promised them jackets and toys. That’s really why we did it – for the swag.

We came in with some story notions. Most were Homer stories. At the time (early in the run) Bart was the breakout star but we identified more with Homer (Gee. wonder why that is?). I had spent the last three summers broadcasting baseball in the minors so the idea of Homer becoming a mascot for the local team stemmed from that experience. Those goofy guys dancing on dugouts very much exist. 

There are a lot of inside jokes and references to the International League in that episode – shamelessly so.

As I recall, the three of us (me, David, and Sam) worked out the story in a morning. I’m here to tell you, the real creative force behind THE SIMPSONS was Sam Simon. The tone, the storytelling, the level of humor – that was all developed on Sam’s watch.

Writing the script was a blast. I remember saying to David that there was so much you could do with these characters that I thought THE SIMPSONS could go five or even six seasons. They’re on what, year 35?

From purplejilly:

How would someone get to be a freelance script writer? For example if someone had a job, kids, and couldn’t afford to leave that job, but just wanted to write scripts on the side? Has that ever happened? Are there any successful freelance scriptwriters for TV?

I wish I could be more encouraging. But there are very few scribes today making a decent living as a freelance television writer. And if they do, chances are they’re veterans and getting these assignments from producers they’ve worked with before.

The WGA contract requires shows to farm out a minimum number of freelance assignments. But generally producers give those out to writers’ assistants or people they know, or in rare cases, young writers who’ve impressed them enough that they want to give ‘em a shot to see what they can do.

When I broke in (just after the Ice Age) there were smaller staffs and most shows had plenty of slots for freelancers. That’s how most writers got their first break – by getting a freelance assignment and delivering the goods. Now writers often get hired on staff based purely on their spec scripts. It’s a gamble that can sometimes backfire. Much less risk giving someone a freelance assignment. The first eight scripts we sold (including MASH) were as freelancers. But again, this was awhile ago.  The continent of Atlantis was still on the map.  

How you get a freelance assignment? Producers are intrigued by your specs, you have a good agent who talks you to the heavens, or you know the producer in some capacity. It’s hard to do under ideal conditions but almost impossible from long distance. Again, wish I had better news.

And finally, from Paul Eisenbrey:

I have a baseball related question. Specifically, about sportscaster grammar. Every once in a while, just often enough to be disturbing, one of you will say something like "that ball was hit a mile off the bat of Bud Cort", or "That young man has come quite a way at just 24 years of age". "Off the bat of"? "Years of age"? Who talks like that? It's as if Yoda got a gig in the broadcast booth.

Seriously (well, sort of...) is there a book of broadcast grammar that recommends such sentences? Or does stress of having to remember to give a plug every 43.23 seconds cause it? Or is ad-libbing for three and a half hours just very difficult (I couldn't do it, anyway) and sometimes oddball sentences just pop out? Or do you guys have a bet going to see how long you can get away with that sort of grammar before someone complains?

Let me know. In the meantime, it is time for me to make the dinner of Paul.

Grammatically incorrect phrases get repeated so often they just become accepted. Announcers don’t even think of them as oddball. The phrases just evolve.

Back in the '40s and '50s the style was much more formal (Chris Berman would last maybe five seconds) and I suspect phrases like “off the bat of” and “years of age” stem from that era.

Here’s the one that drives me crazy, and to my knowledge, I’m the only one who doesn’t say it. “On the night, Pujols is two-for-three.” It’s not ON the night… it’s FOR the night.” So I always say “For the night”, and for all I know the audience thinks, “That’s just weird. Doesn’t this guy know English?”

What question have you?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bubba Smith 1945-2011

Sorry to hear of Bubba Smith’s passing. He was only 66. I worked with Bubba on two shows. Interestingly, neither of them are included in any of the obits I’ve seen. I guess he was more well-known for POLICE ACADEMY and the Oakland Raiders. But I worked with him on OPEN ALL NIGHT and THE MARY SHOW.

He was a series regular in OPEN ALL NIGHT -- a 1980 sitcom about an all-night convenience store. My writing partner, David and I wrote two episodes and guested in one of them. So yes, I acted in a show with Bubba Smith. He generally played the soft-spoken big man who you did not want to cross. In person he was just the soft-spoken big man. Of course I never said to him, “Y’know, the Oakland Raiders are just a bunch of pansies”. But he was a delightful guy. And what impressed me most was how serious he was about acting. It wasn’t just a lark. He put the same effort into learning how to play comedy as he did crushing quarterbacks into powder. You’d think directors and producers would be intimidated giving this 6' 8" bruiser notes but he was extremely receptive. And the results paid dividends. He was very funny, in an understated way that fit perfectly with his giant presence.

Bubba also guested for us on THE MARY SHOW. He played himself. I still love the premise. John Astin, as the theater critic, panned Bubba’s performance in a play that had just opened. So Bubba, furious, comes up to the newsroom to the beat the crap out of John. Name me one actor who hasn’t fantasized that same scenario. In the show, John talks him out of it and instead winds up coaching him. Watching Bubba Smith try to give a performance using John’s acting method was a hoot.

We had Bubba regale us with many football stories from his glory days in the NFL. Yes, that world is as violent and brutal as you imagine. Little things like broken bones and pain pale in importance with gaining an extra yard. They say he died of natural causes. I didn’t realize that the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers are considered natural causes.

He had dropped out of sight of late. I hope his last years were happy ones. I’m sure the tributes will talk about how big he was, how fierce he was, how popular he was. But I want to add how funny he was.

So long, Bubba. Thanks for the hits… and the laughs.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jessica Harper responds

I'm always amazed when I mention someone in my blog and that person responds.  Jessica Harper filed a comment regarding my recent post about meeting her in a bank.  Here's what she had to say (for the two or maybe three of you who don't read the comments).  Thanks, Jessica.  You're a sweetheart.  

That is one fabulous story!
I would be lying if I said I remember the bank part (I DO remember the script) but I'm sure you were a perfect gentleman or I would have cut that conversation short!...and you were very gracious about the audition...these qualities make you a rare and compelling person in Hollywood!
Thanks for your kind words, and for sharing my link with the world. Hmmmm....wonder where we'd be today if I HAD gone out with you...? Food for thought...!
All the best Ken!

A very rare treat

Okay... as promised...

This is an episode of television you'll want to see.  It hasn't aired in thirty years.  This is from the short-lived ABC series, THE ASSOCIATES.    James L. Brooks & company, the creative team behind TAXI is also responsible for this forgotten gem.  The series is about a group of young upscale lawyers, starring a very young Martin Short.

This episode in particular is very special and should resonate as much today as it did when it first aired.  The subject matter is television network censorship.  Short is asked to get involved in a dispute between the network censor and a sitcom showrunner over a scene the network finds offensive.  Actually, I give ABC a lot of credit for airing it.

The episode was written by Ed. Weinberger & Stan Daniels.  They won a WGA Award for it (duh).  Sincere thanks to Howard Hoffman for taping and saving it all these years.

I'm looking forward to your thoughts. 

THE ASSOCIATES - The Censors - April 10, 1980 from Howard Hoffman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Who would play you in the movie?

Lately, there have been a lot of movies either made or in development about real life people. SOCIAL NETWORK for one. 127 HOURS is another. Upcoming you have MONEYBALL where Brad Pitt (of all people) plays the Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Bean. And recently I read that the tell-all book on ESPN is soon to be a minor motion picture.

Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick are already speculating on who would play them in the movie. (Too bad Groucho is dead, Keith.)

But it brings up the question – say there was a movie of your life – who would play you in the movie? Now your first response might be – YOU. Why not play yourself? Well, that’s only been partially successful in the past. Ann Jillian pulled it off in THE ANN JILLIAN STORY but Jackie Robinson not so much in THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY.

Ann at least is a real actor. The truth is good actors will usually do a better job of playing you than you. Raymond Massey was a much better choice to play Abraham Lincoln than Lincoln himself, and not just because he was dead. Massey brought out a warmth that those who knew Lincoln admitted he didn’t have.

Another problem with playing yourself is pulling off those scenes when you were much younger. Imagine Mary Tyler Moore today trying to recreate Laura Petrie? Yiiiiiikes.

So if a Hollywood actor/actress were to play you, who would it be? After the joke answers of George Clooney and Penelope Cruz, which star best resembles you in looks and personality? After the second joke answers of still George Clooney and Penelope Cruz, who would it be?

Probably for me, if I’m being honest, Ann Jillian. Damn, it’s hard to play this game and not give joke answers.

Okay, for real – maybe David Strathern. Possibly Steve Colbert. Someone tall, dark, believable as a blogger.

So what about you? And how many joke answers until you settled on one that’s believable?

Here’s the thing that worries me about my movie. I can understand a studio not letting me play myself. But they probably wouldn’t let me write it either.

Note:  Come back tomorrow.   I've got something really cool.  

A little "chin music"

I’m back in Seattle calling games for the Mariners on 710 ESPN, MLB.COM, and Sirius/XM. A question I’m frequently asked is if I get to take batting practice with the players?

At the major league level, no. They sort of take batting practice seriously. And often, fans are invited to come out to the park early and watch BP and they certainly don't want to drive halfway across town to watch some yutz announcer flail around in the batting cage.

But in the minors things are a little looser. When I was broadcasting for the Syracuse Chiefs in 1988 I would occasionally shag fly balls out in the outfield during batting practice. For the most part I was horrible. Couldn’t catch a thing. But the team was very tolerant.

About halfway through the season I got up the nerve to ask one of our coaches if I could take a few swings. He said, “Sure. Grab a bat and a helmet.” I was very excited. I wasn’t wearing a uniform, but I donned a helmet and snatched a bat off the rack. In my blue jeans and polo shirt I was ready!

The coach who gave me permission trotted out to the mound to pitch to me. I climbed into the cage, dug in in the batter’s box, and prepared to drive that first pitch deep into the leftfield bleachers.

That first pitch comes… right at my head. I dive to get out of the way, just sprawling in the dirt.

Oh well. That must’ve just been one that got away.

I get up, dust myself off, wait for all the laughter to die down, then assume my fierce batting stance.

The next pitch comes. Same place. Right at my coconut. Again, I’m rolling in the dirt, sunglasses flying off my head.  The players are hysterical. 

Well, this happened three or four more times and I got the hint. That was the last time I asked to take batting practice.

Postscript: Our leftfielder made a bonehead play one night and our manager was so livid that when the player came back into the dugout the manager screamed, “You’re so bad even fuckin’ LEVINE is better!”

I, of course, took that as a compliment.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Another one of those great Hollywood stories

In early 1975 I was writing spec scripts with my partner, David Isaacs, trying desperately to break into the business. At the time we were going nowhere fast. The spec RHODA we had submitted was rejected. Then the producer left and we re-submitted it. And the new producer rejected it. (That new producer is now my next-door neighbor. I just keep re-submitting it.)

Anyway, on the way to lunch I need to stop at the bank. I probably bounced a check. I go to the back of a long line and notice that the person directly in front of me is Jessica Harper. Ms. Harper is a fine actress and at the time was very hot. She had appeared in LOVE AND DEATH for Woody Allen and had starred in the cult feature PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE among other credits.

Oh, did I mention I had a HUGE crush on her?  

So I begin talking to her. She’s very nice. I’m asking about working with Woody Allen, her career, anything to keep the conversation rolling. All the while we slowly inch forward in line. When she is finally at the front I decide to do something I never ever do. If you know me you know this is true.

I ask her out. Right there in the bank.

She very graciously declines. A teller is free, she dashes off, and that was that.

I get back in the car and relate the story to David. He of course, gives me shit for fifteen minutes. “You did WHAT?!” Finally, I say, “Someday we’re going to be big producers casting a pilot and Jessica Harper is going to walk into our office and read for us. And then she’ll be sorry.” We laugh, go back to my apartment, and continue working on a spec that will soon be rejected all over town.  Jessica goes off and stars in another Woody Allen movie and one with Steve Martin. 

Flash forward to 1993. David and I have a pilot for CBS, BIG WAVE DAVE’S and we’re casting. Who walks into our office?


Jessica has no idea why we both seem to be beaming the minute she enters the room. Her audition goes well. She’s a terrific actress. She wasn’t totally right for the part but she still gave a great reading.

I’m on the fence about telling her the story. On the one hand, she might be a great sport and find it amusing. On the other, if we don’t hire her maybe she’ll think it’s because of the bank and we’re the most unprofessional spiteful assholes in Hollywood. So we say nothing. I’m sure if Jessica reads this or someone points her to this post it will be the first she’s heard of it. And I guarantee you she has no recollection of the bank encounter. Ten minutes of her life with some schmuck in a line.

But it’s still one of those delicious career moments. And for the record, I still have a crush on Jessica Harper and would be thrilled to work with her. She’s now a blogger and an author as well as an actress and the least I can do is plug her blog, which you can read here, and her cookbook, which you can find here.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mr. Special Effects

Hello from Seattle where starting tomorrow I again call the action and pitching changes for the mighty Mariners.  In the meantime, I'm going to dip into the "Best Of" file. 

This is one of my favorite all-time posts so I cart it out every couple of years.  Certainly one of my funniest -- and I didn't even write it.  

I've talked about the need for showrunners to hold down the budget. What I didn’t mention was how difficult that can sometimes be. Hollywood is notorious for huge mark ups. Studios charging their own shows outrageous rent for their stages and facilities, etc. And if God forbid you need a special effect look out. In writing rooms whenever we propose even the smallest stunt we turn to my partner, David Isaacs, who has created a great character – Mr. Special Effects. He will then describe what is required to pull the stunt off and how much it will cost.

Here is an example, in the form of a memo. And believe me when I say this is TYPICAL.

Report from TV Special Effects Department:

RE: Frasier

Situation: In a dream sequence, Frasier is on the air and his board explodes.

Proposal---If I'm to understand correctly from our conversation you all want the entire radio board to explode in Frasier's (Mr. Gramner's) face. filling the studio room with smoke. It's quite a coincidence since my dad created the same effect for Mr. Al Ruddy for an episode of 'The Monkee's. (For your reference it's the one where the Monkees try to outfox a Russian agent played by Mr. Lloyd Bochner). The good news is that with all the advancements in explosive delivery it's a much easier effect. (The real reason you never saw Mr. Mike Nesmith at any Monkees reunion is that he had four fingers of his left hand blown off. It's certainly not true that he was sick of being a part of a third rate Beatles knockoff. That and feeling responsible for Yakima Canutt losing a testicle on "How the West was Won" haunted my father till he fell to his death rigging Mr. Demetrious 'George' Savalas for a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge in 'Kojak.)

Anyway, the effect is fairly simple, but of course we want it foolproof and safe. (within reason) First of all we will rig a series of explosive charges across the board. That will control the blast as oppossed to one big blast which is harder to control. I will set off the charges in sequence from a specially designed phaser. That should supply our explosion and still create the effect. We also set a charge inside the board so that in the case of a fire breaking out from the initial explosion (small possibility) I'll blow that charge which in turn would smother the flames. That, of course, would also preclude a second take.

Now I'm to understand that Mr. Gramner would like to do the stunt himself (concurrent with an 'Entertainment Tonight' segment profiling sitcom actors who do their own stunts.) That's fine but we will take the precaution of covering his body in an inch to an inch and a half of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly under a flame retardant herringbone suit. (It's uncomfortable but the guy works, what, twelve hours a week?) That will protect him vis a vis a mistake in explosion deployment. (Just to warn you in spite of caution it can happen---Sometimes to a serendipitous result. My dad worked for Mr. George Roy Hill on 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KId." Liitle known fact, the boxcar being blown to smithereens was not in the script. It was what we call in the S.E. business a happy accident. Thankfully the only injury was a prosthetic arm that was mangaled up pretty good. It belonged to my dad's assistant 'Spider' who had lost his real arm and half a foot working with my dad on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Long story)

So we will protect Mr. Gramner. Safety for the cameramen and crew are at your discretion. Should be a do it every day, piece of cake effect. Still it's S.O.P. for me to ask you one question that's in the order of a final safeguard. Was there originally an actor you really felt could have played Frasier in the event that Mr. Gramner was unavailable or... "a handful"? Have to ask. It many times makes a tougher call but I will remind you of 'happy accidents'.

I'm going to ball park a cost for you then come up with a final tally later. I know you have budget concerns but it's a heck of a stunt. Figuring explosives , equipment rented from the studio electrical dept., special costuming from the studio costume dept., crew, overtime, dummy board and console from studio props, studio fire chief standing by, and I figure you'll want to throw in pizza for a hard working S.E. bunch, I think I can bring the whole thing off for you, on the cheap, for about 110 thousand dollars. Again that's if we're not figuring on another take.

Loved the script by the way.

Mr. S.E.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A long night's journey into day

I’m heading up to Seattle tomorrow to begin a nine-game stretch of broadcasting for the Mariners. There was a game earlier this week between the Pirates and the Braves that lasted 19 innings and lasted over six hours. That prompted this Friday question by Joe Knucks-all (yes, it’s an ode to Joe Nuxhall):

What's the longest game you've gotten to call, thus far?

Friday, September 25, 1992. The Mariners at the Texas Rangers. Sixteen innings, but first a little background:

This was the very end of the season. Both teams were already eliminated. So the game meant absolutely nothing.

The game was held in the old Arlington Stadium, a converted minor league park that was, to be charitable, a dump.

It must’ve been 100 degrees at game time and by the end -- 95.

We were doing the game on TV that night as well as radio. That meant the rotation was that I did the first half of the game on television then switched with my partner, the great Dave Niehaus and did the rest of the game alone on the radio. Did I mention sixteen innings?

Because this was the end of the year rosters were expanded. I believe we set a major league record for the number of players used in one game. The Mariners used 29, the Rangers only used 25. The Mariners employed eleven different pitchers. Between the two clubs there were 481 pitches thrown (I think 12 strikes).

We left twelve men on base. Texas left a staggering twenty. M’s second baseman, Bret Boone went 0-7.

You can’t believe what a mess my scorebook was. Completely indecipherable. Navajo Code Breakers couldn’t figure out who batted for who when.

But the incident I remember most was this: Our bullpen was down the leftfield line. Late in the game, maybe the 13th or 14th while play was in I look out and all of our relief pitchers and bullpen catchers are running out onto the field. WTF?! Seems someone discovered a big rat in the bullpen. So while members of the grounds crew removed the rodent we had a ten minute "rat delay".

We won the game 4-3. Omar Vizquel drove in the winning run and then was thrown out in a wild rundown. It was that kind of game.

And then when the game ended – 5:08 after it started -- I had to do the postgame show. That was another half hour. One of the features was the game re-cap.  I think I said something like "A bunch of guys got into the game and made outs and didn't score, and we did that for like five hours, and then someone drove in a run.  I'll have the out-of-town scores next!"

But I will say this, yes it was exhausting but also exhilarating. You get your second wind after about four hours. And the game takes on a life of its own. The adrenaline kicks in and suddenly it’s great fun.

And the way things are going this year, I’d gladly call a thirty inning game if it meant a win.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Beaver Cleaver is back on the air

My past has caught up with me.  Great Big Radio is playing a two-hour restored broadcast of one of my radio shows back when I was Beaver Cleaver on B100 San Diego in 1976.  So for those of you who gotta have the bump, have a love hangover, or want to win passes to see that great new movie ODE TO BILLIE JOE starring Glynis O'Connor at the Grossmont Cinema, tune in to Great Big Radio. 

I'm on starting at 11 PM EDT and replayed at 11 PM PDT.  You can hear it here. I was certifiably insane in those days.  Enjoy.

Friday questions on Friday

Since I already answered Friday Questions on Wednesday and Thursday I thought I should probably answer some Friday Questions on Friday.   Thanks again to Jeff Greenstein for his fantastic post yesterday.   If you have a Fri Q, I’d love to answer it (or find somebody better). Just post it in the comments section. Thanks.

Brian gets us started.

Ken, you have mentioned several times that you got your first writing assignment on THE JEFFERSONS. What was the story line and how did you come up with it?

A new cleaners moves in across the street and George begins losing his confidence. The episode was called “Movin’ on Down”. I can’t remember exactly what led us to it. But I do recall we came up with the idea in a booth at Mario’s restaurant in Westwood late one Saturday night.   That very spot is now Table 17 at the California Pizza Kitchen. 

Tyler K. wonders:

Do TV writers have a harder time writing enough material to fill the required episode time, or cutting material down to do the same? Also, how short do you see TV episodes getting as time goes on? We've gone from 25-minute episodes of Cheers and Mash to 22-minute episodes of Frasier and Friends to some current shows being less than 20 minutes.

Surprisingly, it’s MUCH harder to write a 20 minute show than a 25 minute show. You’d think it would be easier because you had less to write. But it’s much tougher telling a good story in only 20 minutes. Everything has to be so truncated. And if you have a series where you do A and B stories, it makes things especially difficult. Imagine if FRIENDS were still around today. Or MASH.

Stories are more layered, more nuanced, more emotional when you have more time. Why more emotional? Because the emotion has to be earned. And that’s harder to do when characters have to make quick turns.

Michael writes in:

I recently saw a couple episodes of "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" on AntennaTv. 5 or 6 writers shared the writing credit for both shows I saw - I assume they were the show's entire writing staff. Are there union rules that would prevent that from happening today?

Yes. For a sitcom today only two writers or two teams of writers can share teleplay credit on an episode. So if this week’s show is written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs, we each get half. If the show is written by say Earl Pomerantz and Ken Levine & David Isaacs then Earl gets half and David and I split the other half.

You can ask the Guild for a waiver, however. That’s what we did on ALMOST PERFECT. Quite a few scripts were written by David and I and our co-creator, Robin Schiff. But it wasn’t fair that she should get half and we each got a quarter so we asked for a waiver. The Guild said okay as long as all three of us got the equivalent of half – meaning the studio essentially paid for a script and a half. Still with me?

Now things get really complicated when shows are room written like THE BIG BANG THEORY or TWO AND A HALF MEN. Because you can also assign story credit, which pays less than teleplay but at least is something. So if you’ll notice BIG BANG THEORY writing credits, there are usually five or six names. Some get shared story credit, others get shared teleplay credit.

It's a joke because the names on the screen have no relation whatsoever to who actually wrote what. Credits are just divvied up. To me that defeats the purpose of credits. 

From Bob Summers:

Why did the TV seasons of the 70s and into the 80s used to end in March, and why and when did that change to May? I think I have an answer, but I'd like an insider/expert opinion.

This changed when May sweeps were introduced. Most major agencies base their network advertising buys on sweep period ratings. So networks hold back original episodes and sprinkle in stunt programming to inflate their sweeps numbers as much as possible.  Was that what you were thinking, Bob?

And finally, LaprGuy has a question about announcing baseball:

How much does the highlight package (and, maybe moreso, the demo reel) come into play when you are announcing a game?

I don’t think about it at all. As for highlights, I’m just trying to capture the drama of the moment and be accurate. I have no catch phrases.

Re: demo reels, I don’t think about that either. I just try to stay in the moment. Over the course of a season I figure there will be one or two demo-worthy innings somewhere along the way. But my main focus is on the listener and the game at hand. I’m trying to do an informative, entertaining, and descriptive broadcast, not impress.  By the way, I'm back on the air not impressing anyone starting Monday night when the Mariners host the A's in Seattle.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The inside story on DREAM ON

Here's another Friday question that deserves a whole post... and a guest to write it. The question is from Chris, who asks:

Do you have any idea how they used to write Dream On? It had these old movie/tv sequences in between characters' lines to make things more funny. Did the writers come up with the jokes based on old tv shows/movies they remembered or did they have people to help them with those/come up with better ones?

To answer this I went to one of the writer/producers of DREAM ON, Jeff Greenstein. Jeff went on to produce obscure shows like FRIENDS, WILL & GRACE, PARENTHOOD, and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.  He more than graciously fills us in. 

The short answer is both. Here's the long answer.

Before the Dream On staff convened for our first season, we spent hours watching tapes of old anthology series like GE Theatre and Jane Wyman Playhouse (yes, there were tapes in those days, chilluns), painstakingly logging intriguing clips into our notebooks. Sometimes stories would emerge from these sessions—for example, when creators Marta Kauffman & David Crane noticed the startling number of times people offered each other coffee: "Would you like some coffee?" "More coffee?" They concocted a story where main character Martin Tupper has to kick caffeine, only to be plagued by "Getcha some coffee?" "Have another cup," and so on.

Over time, however, the writers came to depend on a research staff whose job it was to watch the old shows and log them into a computer database. (Some of these researchers, notably Greg Malins, later became successful writers in their own right.) Stories were broken without much regard to their clip content; we always believed an episode should work without them. But then, once we were off writing the draft, we'd reach an emotional moment in a scene and say something like "CLIP TO COME: A single tear rolls down an Indian's cheek." The script would then be reviewed by a researcher who'd tell us, "Well, I don't have a crying Indian, but I do have a clip of a guy playing a a tiny violin." So we'd rewrite the script accordingly.

Every once in a while, we'd come across a clip that was so delightful we'd build an entire sequence around it. Jeff Strauss and I wrote an episode where a marathon sex session was intercut with dry narration of a rocket launch: "Yes, the big rocket was off, climbing into the atmosphere with a tremendous thrust of power." And then we'd cut to Martin, well... thrusting. You get the idea.

My favorite of these was an episode called "Calling the Kettle Black," which won us the coveted and defunct CableACE award. Martin finds a joint in his son's sock drawer and gives the kid the "just say no" speech. Cut to an old clip of Nancy Reagan saying "Good for you."

There was also an entire post-production phase where exec producer Kevin Bright would insert or alter clips to punch up a scene. Hence, in a way, the writing process continued all the way through editing.

So to return to the short answer: sometimes the clip tail would wag the writing dog, sometimes vice versa. It lent an additional level of difficulty to the scripts, but it also saved us from having to write subtext. And I think we can all say hurray for that.

Thanks, Jeff.  Both for the answer and some GREAT shows over the years. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Advice for first-time showrunners...not that anyone asked

Well, actually, someone did. Brian Hennessy. He submitted a Friday question that warrants an entire post. (Note: Whenever I can't think of an appropriate picture I always post Natalie Wood photos.)

Hey Ken - can I ask you what are mistakes that first time showrunners make?

1. Not communicating with your staff. It’s not enough to have your vision for the show; you need to clearly share it with your other writers. Don’t just assume. It’ll be hard enough for them without trying to figure out what’s in your head. Same is true with your editor and directors.

2. Be very organized. Time will go by much faster than you think. From day one lay out a plan. You want so many outlines by this date, so many first drafts by that date, etc.

3. Don’t squander that period before production begins. It’s easy to knock off early or move meetings back. But this is golden time before the crunch when actors arrive, cameras roll, and a thousand additional details require your attention.

4. Accept the fact that the first draft of the first script you receive from every staff member will look like a script from the last show they were on. It will take them time to adapt to your show.

5. Remember that every writer is not a “five-tool player” as they say in baseball. By that I mean, some may be strong at story but not jokes, or punch-up but not drafts. Not everybody is good at everything.  Consider that when putting together your staff.

6. Hire the best writers not your best friends.

7. Hire at least one experienced writer. Otherwise, on top of everything else you're doing, you're re-inventing the wheel. 

8. Don’t show favoritism to some writers over others. It destroys morale and no one loves a teacher’s pet.

9. Pick your fights with the network and studio. Don’t go to war over every little note. Antagonizing everyone all the time is a good way to ensure this will be your only showrunning gig. Yes, you’re an artist and you’re trying to protect your vision. And yes, a lot of the notes are moronic, but you have to hear them out. You have to consider them. You have to do the ones you can live with. The best way to get your way is to get them on your side.

10. Don’t overwork your staff. This goes back to being organized. There’s only so many times you can whip the same horse. Your people are dedicated to the show but not to the extent you are. They’re not getting any back end deals. They’re not getting interviewed by ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. This show may be your whole life but they want to go home.

11. Praise your staff. If they turn in a good draft, let ‘em know. This sounds like such a simple thing but you’d be surprised how many showrunners don’t do it.

12. Respect the crew and learn their names. When you walk onto the set, greet them.  They’re not just a bunch of convicts picking up litter along the side of the expressway. They’re dedicated highly-trained professionals who never get any recognition. Take the time to know who they are.

13. Take care of yourself. On the weekends get plenty of sleep. Eat right. Relax. It’s a long haul.

14. Never make your staff work late nights if you’re not there with them.

15. Don’t get so caught up in the work and the grind that you forget to have some fun. You’re running your own show. That’s a rare opportunity. Enjoy it… or at least as much as you can before you have to put out another fire.

16. A good way to completely destroy any morale is to automatically put your name on every script and share credit with every writer. You may win in arbitration but you lose your troops. The trade off is not worth it. You’re getting paid more money than anybody already. Let your writers receive full credit and residuals.

17. Accept responsibility. When things go wrong (and they will) ultimately you’re the one in charge. Not saying you can’t make changes in personnel if someone doesn’t work out, but don’t be constantly playing the blame game. You’re the showrunner. You take the hit.

18. On the other hand, don’t take all the credit. When ideas and scripts and jokes come from other people, publicly acknowledge their contribution.

The bottom line is a showrunner has to develop people skills and management skills as well as writing skills. You may have enormous talent but that will do you no good when your staff firebombs your car with you in it. Good luck. The work is hard but the rewards are enormous.  Wasn't Natalie gorgeous?